Dangerous Laughter

I was already dressed for my run: my favorite mint-green running shorts, baggy white t-shirt, and sneakers double-knotted. My iPod lay on the kitchen counter, charged up and ready to go. But before I could leave, I got caught up in a lively conversation with my roommate in our living room. Something was funny and when I laughed, I felt it for the first time.

It was an ideal late afternoon in the Spring of 2006 – an unseasonable warm breeze whispered in my ear, “you should really be outside.” I was looking forward to a nice easy 4 mile run along the Charles River, it knew it would be one of those days that would remind me just how much I love Boston.

See, this city isn’t always like this. It’s cold and icy for far too long, and just when you’re certain to lose your mind, it all turns to mud and slush straight through May. There are nice days sprinkled in there, like today, but the bad weather is always on the radar. I’ve lived in New England my whole life and like most seasoned New Englanders, I’m physically incapable of taking the good days for granted.

I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly, but one of us said something particularly humorous and when I started laughing, my knees buckled and then caught themselves quickly. It couldn’t have lasted any longer than a second, but the sensation was so foreign.

“Did you see that?”

“See what?” my roommate asked, turning towards me – her eyes still wild from our joke.

“I don’t know exactly, my knees…. they just did something weird, they gave out on me.”

My rooommate hadn’t noticed a thing. We stood only a few feet from one another, yet it had happened so quickly and obviously she wasn’t watching for strange motions below my mid-drift. But still, how odd. It was as if I’d fallen, but only on the inside — while remaining constant and strong on the outside.

We tried to re-spark the boisterous conversation, but the moment had drifted.

Not long after, I left for my run as planned. I followed my usual  route – crossing the BU Bridge onto the Cambridge side of the river, running back towards the Boston cityscape until reaching the MIT Bridge, crossing back into the hustle and bustle of the Back Bay, before darting off to the right to re-enter the Fenway.

Trampling on pavement for 40 minutes, my legs moved with a power and ease. I was an avid runner in 2006, averaging 15 – 20 miles a week. The weakness in my knees never returned that day, neither during my run nor after. It was curious, but hadn’t hurt or harmed me in any way. By nightfall, I forgot about it complately… Forgot about it until about a month later, when it happened a second time. Once again, while I was standing and laughing.

Over the course of that spring and summer, my knees gave out on me with increasing frequency. For lack of a better name, I started calling it ” my knee thing.” It wouldn’t be until July of 2007 that I would find the proper name for this — “cataplexy.” But all this is a story for another day.

At the time, in the Spring of 2006, I didn’t know that this was just the beginning. It never occurred to me that this small weakness would spread to my hands, my neck, my head and eventally lead to full-body collapse. I never would have believed you if you told me that I’d come to avoid laughing out of fear of falling. All this was truly unimaginable on this carefree spring day. I was 22 years old and in perfect health.


  1. Melissa Maxim on January 8, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Wow, that brought tears to my eyes.
    Hey, I love the new stuff along the right side of your blog. The link to your fundraising page and the link to the Globe article. Your website is getting very slick!

  2. A Knitter with Narcolepsy on January 21, 2010 at 2:23 am

    Thank you for describing the on-set of your Cataplexy in such detail. I was diagnosed with Narcolepsy without Cataplexy this past June, but my symptoms started in 2003. Since just this past December I have had 3 episodes that sound so familar to what you described.
    I also blog about my Narcolepsy – just 2 posts so far – at http://www.knittingwithnarcolepsy.blogspot.com
    Thanks again!

  3. REMRunner in the News on August 30, 2012 at 3:24 am

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